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Using Library Resources: What is a scholarly
(peer reviewed) article?

This guide provides information about the Central Community College libraries and the resources we offer. It includes tutorials showing how to access and use the catalog, the databases, and other resources for purposes of research and finding information.

Scholarly/Peer Reviewed Articles

How do I know if it's a scholarly article?

College instructors often require that students include only scholarly articles in the bibliographies of their research papers. But how can a student tell the difference between a scholarly publication and a popular one that's written for a general audience?

The criteria below will help you recognize a scholarly or research article. Not every one of these criteria will be found in every article, but when you can answer yes to many of the following questions, you can be quite confident that you've found the kind of literature your instructor wants you to use.

Looking at the Citation

These criteria are most important when you are looking at a citation for an article in an index, a database, or a bibliography:

  • Does the periodical title depict a very specific subject area?

  • Does the article have a complex and lengthy title?

  • Are the authors' names listed along with their degrees, titles, or other credentials and/or the names of the institutions with which they are affiliated (particularly colleges or universities)?

  • Was the article cited in a subject-specific index or database (e.g., Education Index, Medline, Sociological Abstracts)?

  • Does the periodical title contain the words Journal, Studies, Research, or Review?

  • Is the article long -- more than 5 pages?

The difference between scholarly journals
and popular magazines

Popular articles (magazines)

  • Are often written by journalists or professional writers for a general audience;
  • Use language easily understood by general readers;
  • Rarely give full citations for sources;
  • Written for the general public;
  • Tend to be shorter than journal articles.

Examples of popular magazines: Time, Discover, Astronomy, BusinessWeek

Scholarly articles (journals)

  • Are written by and for faculty, researchers or scholars (chemists, historians, doctors, artists, etc.)
  • Uses scholarly or technical language;
  • Tend to be longer articles about research;
  • Include full citations for sources;
  • Are often refereed or peer-reviewed (articles are reviewed by an editor and other specialists before being accepted for publication);
  • Book reviews and editorials are not considered scholarly articles, even when found in scholarly journals.

Examples of scholarly journals: Journal of the American Medical Association, American Journal of Political Science, New England Journal of Medicine

There are also a few characteristics that almost always indicate that the article or periodical you have is NOT scholarly, but is a general-interest publication. Answering yes to many of the following questions should raise a red flag in your evaluation.

Are authors' names missing?

Are there very few, very brief, or no bibliographies?

Are there lots of full-color ads for popular commercial products?

Is the language very easy to understand?

Is the periodical published frequently:daily or weekly?

Does the periodical contain lots of graphics, photos, &color?

Would the article appeal to a broad range of people?

Can the periodical be purchased at newsstands or stores?


Some points to remember:

  • Both magazine and journal articles can be good sources
  • When selecting articles, think about how you intend to use the information:

Do you want background on a topic new to you? (use magazines)

Did your instructor say to cite scholarly resources? (use journals)

  • A combination of the two will be most appropriate for undergraduate research.